Chapter 17: Finish
Finishing will typically make your bow lose a few pounds of draw weight. I started off a couple pounds heavy and finished off just above the target weight.
To start off, get rid of any tool marks with your scraper. You can sand them off too but typically the scraper is faster. After that, I sand the whole bow with 220 grit sandpaper. I don’t like to use anything courser than that since you’ll leave tool marks.
After sanding a layer, I wipe down the bow with a wet cloth. It should be dry in a minute or two. If you’re in a real hurry you can use alcohol and it will dry pretty instantly. This step will raise any wood fibers that have been lying flat, and will make sure they get shaved clean in the next step.
Sometimes I’ll give the bow a second pass with 220 grit, if things are still looking rough. This time I went straight up to 320. If you’re planning to stain your bow don’t sand any finer than that. I like to stop at 300, otherwise the stain will go on in a patchy way. The courser grits let the stain penetrate more evenly.
When I don’t want to stain a bow I’ll keep sanding with finer and finer grits, up to around 1000 grit, using the wet wipe to raise the grain in between each grit.
Here I’m using leather dye, this is feibings dye, I’m using the colors Black as well as Saddle Tan. You can also use any other wood stain or mix your own analine dye. I like leather dye because its easy to control and blends well.
I coated the whole bow in saddle tan, then covered the back in black, and finally I blended the tips and handle into black.
I’m using a cotton ball wrapped in gauze, but you can also just use a bit of paper towel or a pom pom brush if you have one. Make sure the brush is pretty dry or you’ll get a sloppy effect. If you have too much stain loaded then offload some until you get a light streaky effect. It’s worth practicing on scrap before giving it a go.
After everything is dry we’re ready for finish. I really like shellac, its my go to finish. I buy the flakes and mix it myself, it’s easier and cheaper that way. Spray shellac is also a great choice since it dries so quickly. I don’t recommend buying pre mixed shellac in cans because a lot of it is sold expired, and there’s not good way to check if you have a fresh can.
Usually 3-7 layers of finish is enough. The last few layers should be polished if you don’t want any bumps from dust.
You can also use your preferred polyurethane finish, or most other finishes. If you have gunstock finish those are some of the best choices. Tru oil is a lot of work to put on but probably the finest finish I’ve used. And of course you can use a drying oil like linseed or tung oil. Personally I would only use these on an unstained bow.
Finally I like to buff the bow with a coat of beeswax. If you do this make sure it won’t interfere with your finish, in case you ever have to patch the bow. Otherwise you’ll have to clean it all off. Shellac is very versatile and one of few finishes that plays well with wax